Open Access Government provides a short introduction to biomedical research and innovation in the UK, including autism
In the UK, the Medical Research Council (MRC), finances scientific research “to prevent illness, develop therapies and improve human health,” we are told (1), including autism. (2) The MRC are one of many councils underneath the non-departmental public body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). (3)
The MRC strategic delivery plan 2022 to 2025 is a comprehensive document, including their vision to speed up human health improvements plus economic prosperity “by supporting world-class biomedical research and innovation, and strengthening partnerships within UKRI, across the UK and around the world,” we read. Central to the MRC’s vision is a firm commitment to “support world class discovery science and the best investigator-led ideas.” (4)
Biomedical research and innovation examples
In recent MRC news stories, we see excellent examples of fantastic biomedical research and innovation, such as the discovery that the malfunctioning behaviour of a kind of immune cell connects with Long COVID. Dr Elizabeth Mann, Wellcome Trust, Royal Society Sir Henry Dale
Fellow at the University of Manchester’s Lydia Becker Institute, said more about this: “Our work finding a link between monocyte function and specific Long COVID symptoms may provide an important first step on the road to possible treatments.” The MRC is one of the study’s funders. (5)
The MRC mainly funded another study, where imaging researchers take a significant leap forward as they get closer to their goal of targeting hypoxic cancers being treated. Lead author, Professor James O’Connor, at The University of Manchester, The Christie and The Institute of Cancer Research, provided more detail: “Though it’s clear more work needs to be done, we’re very excited about the potential this technology has to enable daily monitoring of tumour oxygen and we hope to be at a point soon when the technology will guide cancer doctors in how they can best deliver radiotherapy.” (6)
MRC supports autism research
One area of the MRC’s work is their financing of and support for autism research, especially early intervention potential plus early life stages. (2) The MRC strategy for lifelong mental health research guides this; in that document, we find out that the MRC finances research concerning all mental health disorders. It also points out that cognition impairments are common in disorders like autism.
The strategy has an exciting part about neuroimaging to help study mental illness. We learn that the MRC has set up several national imaging networks, which, combined with the underpinning infrastructure, give a rich resource for “future cohort and experimental medicine studies in mental health”, an approach we hear has already been successful, giving the example of autism. Let’s hear more.
“A MRC-funded, multi-centre study to investigate brain anatomy in autism – the UK Autism Imaging Multicentre Study (UK AIMS) – showed that people with autism have significant anatomical differences from people without autism and that those differences are related to severity of behaviour. The consortium became part of the large, international consortium of the European Autism Interventions: A Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications”. (7) *
The MRC funds research in the field via the Neurosciences and Mental Health Board through fellowships and using several centres and units:
- MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders, King’s College London.
- MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge.
Some of the work the MRC has supported in the field of autism includes:
- MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders, where research occurs concerning disorders where the brain’s development is disturbed. “The result of this can include impaired language and non-verbal communication, as seen in conditions such as autism, as well as impaired motor function, learning and neuropsychiatric problems,” we hear.
- Pre-school autism communication trial, where the University of Manchester “tested a parent-mediated communication-based intervention for young children with autism – the pre-school autism communication trial (PACT).”
- The autism genome project, a consortium, which has demonstrated that those “with autism spectrum disorders have more copy number variants that disrupt genes than people in the control group.”
- Autism baby siblings research programme, examining the development of social, attention and perception abilities development in infants who have a “familial risk of autism.” (2)
Biomedical research and innovation in the future
We trust that world-class biomedical research and innovation will continue in the future to stop illness from occurring and find therapies that improve the health of the human race. One of many areas the MRC supports, autism, fits with the broader lifelong mental health research perspective. Here, we have seen a few excellent examples of research in autism and other fields that the MRC funds.
* The web link https://www.imi.europa.eu/content/eu-aims is referenced in the document located at https://www.ukri.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/MRC-011221-MRCStrategyForLifelongMentalHealthResearch.pdf
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